I saw people running up and down our street checking on the other homes. I looked and saw that the home 2 doors down from me was badly damaged, like it was about to fall onto its side. The woman living in that house had been Makenna's Sparks Leader a couple of years ago. I didn't see her on the street anywhere. I ran towards her house, keeping my eyes down to ensure I didn't trip over the downed trees, phone and hydro lines. When I reached her front door a guy I didn't know was there pounding on it, yelling for anyone inside to answer it. When no one answered he broke the door down and we both rushed in. He told me to go upstairs and said he would check downstairs. I hurried my way up the stairs, which were leaning on a steep angle, sideways, like in a funhouse. I was yelling out her name as I went and when I reached the top of her stairs I stopped dead and stared...
What the hell happened here? Could it be...???
Her entire upper floor was gone. No roof, no walls, no rooms, no nothing. I was standing level with the sky, everything else was gone. I hurried back downstairs, told the guy she wasn't up there and he said he couldn't find anyone downstairs either. He left and ran on to the next house, I ran back towards my own.
I have been terrified at the thought of tornadoes for years. I even blogged about that here once. Did we just have a tornado? It couldn't have been...right? We had no warning. We didn't see a funnel cloud. It was justa bunch of rain and hail and...and our basement stood up just fine. We didn't even know how bad it was until we stepped outside. But looking around, this was like nothing I had ever seen before. The windows in the bank were all blown out. Part of the wall fell down onto a car in the parking lot. The church roof was...just...gone. There was a camping trailer flipped up on its side and resting against a hydro pole. This was all just right in my immediate area.
Did a tornado, the one thing I have always been so afraid of, just take out my street?
This is not a good day to have a fireman for a husband.
I needed to get ahold of my mom. Partly to tell her before she heard it on the news, partly to get her to come get the kids, partly just so I could anchor to someone. My phone would not call or text out. I saw my neighbour on her cell phone and when she was done I begged to call out on it. It took about 3 tries, but finally the call went through. I was standing infront of the Paint Plus store when she answered.
"Mom...there's been a tornado here...it's really really bad"...I said tearfully. I had to repeat myself a few times as she couldn't hear clearly over all the sirens and commotion around me. I knew by now that it had been a tornado because one of the first firemen on scene, a friend of mine, had said the word, and told me a State of Emergency had been declared for the town. He said the Salt Mine, our biggest employer, and our downtown business core had both been destroyed. I couldn't comprehend what that even meant. How could that be?
My mom was in tears immediately and told me she was on her way...it would take her about an hour to get from where she was to where I was. I assured her we were fine, told her I didn't know where Jeff was but that he was with the Fire Dept, that the kids were safe, but I thought our house was badly damaged and knew our vehicles were written off. She was shocked by what I was saying. I hung up and gave the phone back to my neighbour. Mine still wouldn't work.
I talked to the local firemen who had stationed themselves at my corner and watched them try to control our area. I remember when they first arrived, seeing one GFD truck pull to a stop at my corner, while another sped on by it and still another headed in a third direction towards our downtown area. Police Cars were screaming by in all different directions too. I remember thinking, "These poor guys have no idea where to go or what to do...how are they going to handle this?"
Every GFD firefighter that got out of that truck at the corner two houses away from my house came over to me, checked in with me and looked at my house in disbelief. Half the roof was ripped off, the front porch was gone, and it looked like a machine gun had had its way with the side of the house. There was a tree burying the back half of Jeff's truck, and my van right infront of it had been turned so that the front half waswedged into our garage and the back half wedged into the fence. There wasn't a window left in either one of them and there was insulation from someone's home throughout both of them. Our entire street was in shambles. I remember hearing over the fire radio that all the guys use to communicate with eachother "Wormy's (Jeff's nickname) house is gone".
I turned and saw my cowboy firefighter running down the far end of the street towards us, still in barefeet and workboots, shorts and a t shirt. One of the guys handed him a radio and he clipped it to his shirt. He was told he was in charge of our street. He disappeared again, with the task of entering every home on Park Street, making sure every occupant was out and safe. It wasn't long until the smell of gas filled the air. My neighbours and I started commenting..."Do you smell that? Is it gas?" The further down our street you went towards Cambria Road, the worse the smell was...enough to make you physically nauseous. And there my husband and father of my children was, somewhere in the middle of it.
By now I was recieving BBM messages and texts from people across town, wondering if we were okay, commenting on the storm. The other side of town was untouched. My brother though, who lived 45 mins away, had heard the reality on his fire scanner and was texting me every 5 seconds, demanding I call him right now. My responses wouldn't go through and when he wasn't hearing back from me he started capitalizing all of his texts and using lots of exclamation points. I was typing responses, but they weren't going though. I knew my brother would be losing his mind at this point and there was nothing I could do. I knew he would have heard about it through his fire scanner. I started taking pictures with my phone and uploading them to facebook to let people know we were okay.
Of course that worked no problem, you can always count on facebook! That set off a flood of comments and messages, texts and bbms to my phone from people out of town, that I still couldn't respond to. All I could do was keep uploading pictures with comments on them. So I did. My sister in law was bbming me telling to to figure out a way to call my brother before he had a stroke, but I couldn't. I recieved a bbm from my dad, all the way out in Alberta..."Hey...what's going on?" I started to cry again, wondering if he knew, and how, or was just asking a general question. I couldn't respond to him either, which was actually a good thing, because I didn't know what he would do when he heard and didn't want to deal with trying to calm him down across the country. I assumed my mom would get ahold of him.
Jeff came back to me again telling me and the other firemen about gas that was leaking and spewing out into the air half a block back. He was panicked. Someone had left to get his bunker gear for him. He yelled at me to go back into the house and get him some socks. Other firemen there asked me to get them some as well. I ran back into the house and was confronted head on with the reality. There was no front door. I tried to stand it back up to block the entrance to our home. There was broken glass everywhere. I ran upstairs to get the socks and when I entered our bedroom I stopped so fast I almost fell over. I could see the sky. The whole side wall right beside Jeff's dresser that the socks were in had pulled away from the house...the entire east wall of our house was barely even there, hanging on by a thread. I grabbed a handful of socks, ran down the stairs and out the "door". Jeff grabbed the socks from me and before I could even tell him about the wall, he was gone again. I looked at one of his close friends, another firefighter, and told him about it. As he ran off in another direction he looked back at me, looked me in the eye and said "Don't you worry, we're going to build you a brand new one!"
I was finally able to use BBM on my phone and had at least 20 messages. I got ahold of my brother, who I thought was going to come through the phone when he heard my voice. He told me he was on his way, in his bunker gear. He asked where Jeff was and I told him I had no idea. He said he was going right to the firehall and that he would get to my street as soon as he could. I told him I had called mom and she was coming to get the kids.
I went back over to my neighbour's and down into their basement. The kids were playing away, oblivious to everything happening. I gathered them up and took them outside. We sat down beside the firetruck to wait for my mom. We weren't there long before I felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned and came face to face with my little brother. Mike was stunned but trying to hide it. He made sure we were okay and turned to look at my house. He walked towards it, came back and told me he had to go find Jeff. And then he was gone. A short time later, Lynn, who owns the Carlow Mercantile, saw us and sat down with us. I explained what was going on with my mom and then realized I had nothing for the kids to take with them. Lynn said she would watch them as I gathered a few things. I ran back into the house and into Makenna's room. The whole east wall had separated in her room as well, and out her window I could see the chimney had fallen onto the garage roof. The screen had blown out of her window but the window itself was fine. I closed it. I grabbed 2 pairs of clothes and a pair of Pjs for her, stuffed them into the suitcase and ran into Jack's room. His entire window had shattered onto his bedroom floor. There was glass everywhere. I stepped over the glass and grabbed the entire pkg of pull ups and 2 changes of clothes for him too. I looked back at his bed...it seemed okay, other than some leaves and stuff on it...
Jeez...what if he still had of been napping?
I ran back outside with the suitcase and saw Lynn point me out to the kids. There she was, a woman they had never seen before, sitting with my kids at the corner, surrounding by EMS and neighbours, acting as if nothing was out of the ordinary. I looked over at the vehicles and saw the carseats inside.
Crap. Kids need carseats. My mom didn't have them in her van. Was I supposed to use these ones? A freaken tornado had just literally went through the vehicles they were in. You can't use car seats after they have been involved in a car accident...but they were going to be driving for an hour...they couldn't not have them...Jack especially...
So, I climbed into our truck, amongst all the broken glass and debris, unhooked the 5 point harness seat and the booster seat and dragged them along with the suitcase to the corner where the kids were waiting with Lynn. I texted my mom, who replied that she was at the bridge that enters our town and they wouldn't let her in any further. I asked a couple police officers if they would drive us out to meet her and they said they couldn't. At that point because of the worsening gas leaks and multiple unsafe buildings threatening to fall down infront of us, they started evacuating our area, pushing us back a full block. Another block further away from where my mom was. I had 2 kids, 2 carseats, and a suitcase. Lynn promised to stay with me until I found my mom.
At this point, after we had been pushed a block away from our house, both kids announced they had to go to the bathroom. I wanted to scream and cry. I had no choice but to take them behind one of the stores and have them pee outside there while Lynn waited at the corner with our stuff. My 3 year old son thought this was fantastic. My poor 6 year old daughter had no idea what she was doing and peed all over her shorts. I was angry and frustrated. Now she was stuck in wet shorts. Thankfully her Tshirt was long so no one else noticed. We met Lynn back at the corner. My mom texted that she was walking in, despite me telling her repeatedly I had no way of getting to her. Lynn suggested we walk around the back way. We headed down Elgin St, past KFC to Picton St. I think. All the while Makenna struggling to pull the suitcase behind her, me carrying the carseats, Lynn carrying Jack. We cut across the yard that the lumberyard was in. That lumberyard had been blown apart. Everything was everywhere and there we were trudging through the middle of it. I was starting to realize how bad this was. After what felt like forever We ended up back at the corner of Park and Cambria streets and my mom texted that she was at thje corner of East and Victoria - the farthest she could get. Anything further up had been evacuated. I told her to start heading East on East st. Jack told Lynn his mommy was a better carrier and he wanted his mommy to carry him now, so I traded the carseats for Jack. Our streets were literally impassible at this point. We climbed over tree trunks, weaved our way around and through bushes, all the while telling the kids it was a huge crazy adventure. The thought crossed my mind that my daughter was not going to handle all this well once the crisis mode had passed. Lynn and I were awestruck by the devastation and couldn't believe we were having trouble deciphering where we were. I was about a block away from my house and couldn't even tell. We were trying to get through this really thick area of fallen trees on someone's front yard and Lynn lost her sandal. My mom texted me that she was one street over from where I was. She was at the corner of St David and Cambria Streets. I told her not to move. A minute later I saw her boyfriend, and then I could see her walking further up the street with a fireman. I yelled "HEY!" and she and the fireman both turned at the noise.
My mom and the fireman came running towards us.
The fireman, now in full bunker gear and in full work mode, was my husband.
Where the hell was my brother?
Jeff said he had seen him and knew where he was. My mom bear hugged all of us. We stood there for a couple minutes catching our breath and discussing everything. My mom really wanted to walk to our street, one block away, to see the house and take pictures.
Yep, that's my mom.
Jeff and I both told her there was no way that was happening.
So there we were, we had gotten the kids to her, and her van was still a couple of kilometers away.
Lynn to the rescue again. Her vehicle was parked at a plaza a few blocks away. she said she would load my mom, her boyfriend and the kids into her vehicle and drive them out of town to where my mom's van was. Jeff said they were letting people out of town, but not in, so that would work. He told me I was going too.
No way in hell was I leaving town.
So, Lynn, the kids, my mom, her boyfriend and I started walking the few blocks towards the plaza her vehicle was at. I could not believe that just a few blocks north of mine, eveything was relatively untouched. A few tree limbs down here and there but nothing compared to my street. We passed a number of people I knew on the street. We ran into the mom of one of Makenna's friends. When I told her about our house she didn't believe me at first. Her eyes filled with tears as we walked away. We reached Lynn's vehicle and loaded the carseats. I still wasn't sure I should use them, but didn't know what else to do. The kids got in, I kissed them both goodbye and told them both to be good. It had started to rain again. Lynn gave me a sweater and my mom's boyfriend gave me his jacket. He asked me if I needed any cash and I replied no, and that even if I did I couldn't spend it anywhere anyway. I said goodbye to my mom, told her about Makenna's shorts, told her to get ahold of Dad and Grandma and she said that she would. She told the kids they were going to go to Gran's for supper. My mom tried to convince me to come too, but there was no way I was leaving town. Lynn drove them away, and I didn't know it then, but that was the last I would see of my kids for days. Much longer than I thought when I was standing there saying goodbye. I put on Paul's jacket and stood there in the rain for a minute...looking around.